Net Zero – Carbon Neutral

by Doug Murray on September 30, 2011

This week I attended a talk mostly for architects, hosted by the City of Santa Rosa, Ca. The topic was Net Zero , Carbon Neutral Buildings. These terms are mostly synonymous. The public generally hears the term “Green Buildings”. This term is somewhat vague; it’s generally thought to mean design and construction practices that are not harmful to the environment.

Net Zero and Carbon Neutral are terms that make it more specific as to how a particular Green Building is Green. Most scientists agree that the carbon dioxcide in the atmoshere is the main molecule  responsible for climate change do to global warming. The Kyoto Protocol established the 1990 level of carbon dioxide emissions as being a baseline for man made emission of carbon dioxide.

The City of Santa Rosa has established a goal for all new commercial buildings to have emissions of carbon dioxide  25% less than the 1990 levels by 2015, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Calif. with AB32 requires buildings to go back to 1990 levels by 2020.

Ed Mazria an Architect and long time passive solar designer has proposed buildings be carbon neutral by 2030. So, according to his 2030 goal “carbon neutral” means the building will use no fossil fuel in it’s operation; however, as stepping stones to that goal; others are proposing that a building may use some fossil fuels, like for heating, but then the building  will generate an excess amount of on site energy with renewable sources, such as photo voltaic, to balance the amount of fossil fuel that the building uses, therefore, it will be Carbon Neutral or be a Net Zero producer of carbon dioxide.

So the ultimate goal that all these proposed goals are aiming for is the elimination of the use of fossil fuels; even if definitions of  these terms still, seem to be, in the early stage of development.

I hope this sheds some light on these terms. I was trying to clarify and distill this information for myself as I was writing it to present to others.

There are many avenues to take to see how these carbon reduction strategies can influence the design of a building or home; they are topics for future discussions.

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